Three Years of Lunching!

13 Mar

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This year of lunching brought some amazing experiences, like my behind-the-scenes tour of the dinosaur exhibit at the ROM (still one of the best days OF MY LIFE!) and a lunch that I will treasure forever with my wonderful Nonna, who is turning 90 next week! It was also the year of my most embarrassing lunch experience when I forgot my wallet and my gracious guest had to pick-up the check. I had the chance to meet a writer that I really admire when I lunched with Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders, learn more about my new neighbourhood with a lunch with my MP Andrew Cash and re-connect with one of my favourite professors from university, Dr. Dennis Denisoff.

The biggest Lunch with Mary development from the past year is that my blog is now also featured on the Huffington Post! I still can’t believe it sometimes. This lunching thing has been a crazy ride!

At the end of each blogging year, I always need to thank the very generous folks who take time out of their busy lives to have lunch with me. And this past year, I was so privileged to have so many amazing lunch guests. So a big thank you to:

· Doug Grant

· Dr. David Evans

· Noah Cowan

· Doug Saunders

· Dr. Dennis Denisoff

· Mike Landry

· Andrew Cash

· Ida Pollarolo

· Lynne Missen

· Dr. Ian Burton

· Andrew Stoeten

I just hope that I will be able to continue to lunch with such incredible people, who teach me so much about the work they do and the world we live in. The provocative and thought-provoking lunch conversations stay with me and keep me thinking long after the meal is finished. I highly recommend lunching with strangers. This blog has been the greatest learning experience of my life. Here’s to many more years of lunching!

Thank you for reading.

‘Drunk Jays Fan’ Andrew Stoeten

23 Jan

Lunch with Mary 058

Date of lunch:
Monday, January 23, 2012

The company:
Andrew Stoeten is one half of the Drunk Jays Fans blog and podcast. Dustin Parkes, the other half, was planning to join us but was unfortunately not feeling well. Drunk Jays Fans started as a personal blog in 2006 after Andrew and Dustin had sufficiently annoyed their friends with rants against baseball writers on unrelated email trails. After two years and the development of a huge and devoted fan base, Dustin and Andrew were approached by The Score to blog on its website and produce a weekly podcast. Both Andrew and Dustin now work full-time at The Score and have basically accomplished what many bloggers only dream of – they found a way to make a living off blogging, without compromising the original premise of Drunk Jays Fans.

The food:
We ate at Canyon Creek on Front Street West. I am on a horrible diet as ordered by my naturopath so I ordered the only thing on the menu that I was able to eat – grilled chicken. Although I would have preferred one of the burgers on the menu, the chicken was very good. Andrew had the prime rib with garlic mashed potatoes that made me extremely jealous. We both drank water – so I guess Andrew isn’t such a drunk Jays fan after all. Total bill was $34 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Sabermetrics! Andrew and I had an interesting conversation about the concept in Moneyball, which is called sabermetrics. Since I had never heard of this strategy prior to watching Moneyball, I did not know the backstory. There is quite a bit of debate in the baseball community about this strategy. One area of contention is the bunt. As someone who has watched a fair number of baseball games, I have always felt like the bunt does not work. Andrew explained that the theory behind getting rid of the bunt is that the entire focus should be on not getting any “outs” so any play that would get someone “out” is not worth it. But on the opposing side of the argument, the bunt can work and put a player in scoring position and it’s exciting for the crowd. Although I enjoy watching sports, it’s obvious from the success of Drunk Jays Fans and fantasy pools, that half the fun for super fans is the debates and analysis that occur outside of the actual games. I am pretty sure I could never keep up with Andrew in a debate but maybe I should read up some more and start some arguments this spring.

The lunch:
Obviously my first question had to be Andrew’s thoughts on Alex Anthopoulos and the coming Toronto Blue Jays season. In short, Andrew likes him and feels good about the direction of the team. I am one of those people who loves cheering for underdogs (exhibit A: I’m a Sens fan) so I like the idea of building a team with good, young players who will just get better and better. This seems to be the path we’re on with the Jays. And it seems to fit the Blue Jays budget a little better.

I also wanted to learn about how Drunk Jays Fans became what it is today. As a blogger who really enjoys what I do with my site, I always want to hear how other people have found success with what they love to do. Andrew spoke about his relationship with the Score and how him and Dustin are able to do what they’ve always done. And then he spoke to the real trick is having success as a blogger – producing good content. Drunk Jays Fan have a weekly podcast, as well as lots of posts throughout the week. For a blog such as theirs, I think it’s key to post often, consistently and never compromise on quality – because there are plenty of other blogs on the Internet where your readers can go.

My other favourite baseball question has to do with at-bat songs. I am fascinated by the songs players choose. It gives a little insight into the player’s personality plus I always picture at-bat songs in real life, like if I had a song every time I entered a boardroom for a meeting. I asked Andrew what his at-bat song would be. He said he has thought about it and it would most likely be Search & Destroy. He then said one of the best entrance songs was in the 1970’s when Yankee’s closer Sparky Lyle would walk out to Pomp & Circumstance. That is pretty amazing. My at-bat song would, of course, be It’s a Long Way to the Top.

Andrew is getting excited for the upcoming season. He said he plans to watch some games from the media box this year for the first time. He doesn’t consider himself a “sports journalist” – especially given the blog started by criticizing sports writers. But these days, Drunk Jays Fans is competing with those sports writers for the very same audience. And it seems like they’re doing just fine.

Leading International Climate Scientist Dr. Ian Burton

8 Nov

Lunch with Mary 057

Date of lunch:
Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The company:
Dr. Ian Burton’s resume is incredible and beyond impressive! He is a professor emeritus with the University of Toronto’s Adaptation and Research Section at the Centre for the Environment and was formerly a senior policy advisor with Environment Canada. Currently, he is a consultant to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), World Bank, European development assistance agencies, Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the list goes on. He also received a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report. So I lunched with a Nobel Prize winner, no big deal. The report was honoured that year along with Al Gore’s work on climate change. Incase you are curious as to why it was a Peace Prize, it is because according to the IPCC there is a real danger that “climate changes may also increase the danger of war and conflict, because they will place already scarce natural resources, not least drinking water, under greater pressure and put large population groups to flight from drought, flooding, and other extreme weather conditions”.

The food:
We ate at Kalendar on College St. at Euclid. I was trying to find a quiet spot for lunch but it’s not always easy. Kalendar was quite nice for a lunch conversation with no loud music. However, as the lunch crowd grew it did get a bit noisy. Dr. Burton had the orange and ginger carrot soup and a Kalendar salad. I had a single scroll 5 – a Kalendar specialty. We both seemed to enjoy our meals as we completely cleaned our plates. We both drank water and each had a coffee after our meal. Total bill was $37 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Basically every moment of this lunch was so incredibly interesting. But Dr. Burton was able to really show the immense impact of climate change when he spoke of his work with the government of Bangladesh. The water levels are rising in the Bay of Bengal due to melting ice caps and Bangladesh is slowly going underwater. Unlike the Netherlands where levies and containment walls are doing the trick, Bangladesh is at a far greater risk. The sea around the country is much more susceptible to extreme typhoons. The rivers that run through Bangladesh swell at a much greater rate during monsoons. Basically the water will rise and there’s no stopping it. Already, salt water is seeping into the ground. Dr. Burton told me there are rice fields that have now been converted to shrimp farms. Dr. Burton is working with the government as they develop industries and training that will help citizens move north to cities that are on higher ground. Climate change is happening and people are being affected today.

The lunch:
Dr. Burton and I had to meet this week as he is about to leave for a three week trip to several environmental conferences. He first has meetings in Kampala, Uganda where the IPCC is to adopt a report on climate change and disasters for which Dr. Burton is a Lead Author. He then heads to Cape Town, South Africa where he is helping scientists there have their research published. He then will head to 17th annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) in Durban, South Africa. The COP meets annually to assess the progress in dealing with climate change. It was at this conference in Japan in 1997 that the Kyoto Protocol was created. The ultimate objective of the Convention is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.

In 1997, Canada committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. With 2012 fast approaching, Canada’s greenhouse gas output is now, according to Dr. Burton, somewhere around 30 per cent higher than in 1990. Now many climate scientists will say that these targets were not well understood at the time of ratification and were perhaps never realistic.

Dr. Burton believes that although there are climate skeptics now, they will come around and the necessary change to reduce greenhouse emissions will happen – likely in something like 50 years. The problem with this scenario, according to Dr. Burton, is that many irreversible impacts of climate change will have already occurred. He told me about scientists in the UK who track different types of plants, insects and animals. Already they are seeing butterflies in northern areas where they were previously unable to survive. Although butterflies floating around doesn’t seem that bad, foreign species can have devastating effects on an ecosystem. In places like the Arctic, roads and buildings are built on permafrost. As that permafrost melts, all of this infrastructure is being destroyed. This impacts industry, jobs, the economy and more. Although it might seem expensive to reduce carbon emissions now, it will be more expensive in the long run.

In the past 100 years or so, the average global temperature has gone up by one degree. Dr. Burton was able to simply explain this to me. One degree might not seem like a lot. But do you know what the average temperature was during the ice age? Only five degrees cooler than today and four degrees cooler than 100 years ago. So each degree has an enormous impact.

I wouldn’t classify myself as a die-hard environmentalist, but listening to the impact of climate change in places like Bangladesh and the Arctic is quite frightening. I hear politicians doubting the validity of human’s impact on climate change. It is depressing when the evidence is quite clear. Hopefully with people like Dr. Burton on the case, we can work to find implementable solutions for both developing and developed nations.

As the COP approaches, you will notice more discussion of Kyoto and emission targets in the news. I will be trying my best to pay close attention as this is something that is really going to affect everyone – all over the world.

Contest – Win FREE BOOKS!

6 Oct

Contest

Exciting times! My very first Lunch with Mary contest. My most recent lunch guest Lynne Missen, publishing director, Penguin Canada, has generously sent me a selection of young adult novels and I am giving them away! Two of these books are Advance Reader’s Copies meaning they aren’t yet available in stores. Here is a quick overview of the books:

Playground by 50 Cent – Inspired by 50 Cent’s own adolescence, Playground is a hard-hitting and inspirational story of the redemption of a bully. Advance copy, it will be available in stores in November 2011. Young adult novel BY 50 CENT! Need I say more?

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler – It’s 1996, and less than half of all American high school students have ever used the Internet. Emma just got her first computer and an American Online CD-ROM. Josh is her best friend. They power up and log on – and discover themselves on Facebook, fifteen years in the future. This book is also an advance copy and will be available in stores in November 2011.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher – Clay Jensen doesn’t want anything to do with the tapes Hannah Baker made. Hannah is dead. Her secrets should be buried with her. Then Hannah’s voice tells Clay that his name is on her tapes – and that he is, in some way, responsible for her death.

Across the Universe by Beth Revis – Amy is a cryogenically frozen passenger aboard the spaceship Godspeed. She has left her boyfriend, friends – and planet – behind to join her parents as a member of Project Ark Ship. Amy and her parents believe they will wake up on a new planet, Centauri-Earth, three hundred years in the future. But fifty years before Godspeed’s scheduled landing, cryo chamber 42 is mysteriously unplugged and Amy is violently woken from her frozen slumber. Someone tried to murder her. Now, Amy is caught inside a tiny world where nothing makes sense.

How to enter
Please leave a comment on this post saying which book you’re most excited to read. Contest closes Friday, October 28th at 11:59 p.m. A winner will then be selected using an online random number generator. Contest open to Canadian residents only. One entry per person.

Penguin Canada Publishing Director Lynne Missen

27 Sep

Lunch with Mary 056

Date of lunch:
Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The company:
Lynne Missen is publishing director of Penguin Canada Young Readers, its children and young adult program. Lynne has been an editor for over 20 years. Prior to joining Penguin Canada, she was executive editor of children’s books at HarperCollins Canada. Young Adult (YA as Lynne calls it) is at a really interesting spot right now as the books that fall in this category are being read by adults too and some of the best-selling books out today fall in this category – think Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games. Next spring, she will be launching Razorbill books here in Canada, an imprint of books for teens that are authentic, compelling and entertaining. I, like many others, have always dreamed about one day being a published author so it was great to hear from Lynne about what goes into publishing a book.

The food:
We ate at Barque Smokehouse on Roncesvalles. I have been meaning to check out this place for a while so was happy when Lynne suggested it. If you haven’t had the chance to check out Roncy since the construction was completed, you should definitely get down there and go for a stroll. It’s lovely. The lunch menu at Barque is a bit too small. They offer five or so sandwiches, a few salads and sides. That’s it. Lynne had the special – pulled pork sandwich with a spinach salad on the side. I had the pulled chicken sandwich with bacon and a smoked tomato soup on the side. My sandwich was delicious but the soup was too acidic – it didn’t have anything in it to cut the acid. We both drank sparkling water. Overall I will be back to try the dinner menu as I’ve seen pictures of the ribs and they look amazing. Total bill was $27 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
I asked Lynne how one might hypothetically get a book published, say if that was, you know, something someone might want to do. She let me know that Penguin, as well as most of the other big publishing houses, doesn’t accept unsolicited manuscripts and they receive manuscripts from unknown authors through agents. She mentioned that there are publishers that do accept unsolicited manuscripts. She said that finding an agent can be just as or more difficult than finding a publisher. She said the most important thing is to find a publisher or agent that is putting out the type of books that you’re writing. Lynne doesn’t publish a lot of picture books so if that’s what you’re shopping around, she isn’t the best target. Finally, she said when you do pitch your book, don’t say “it’s the next Harry Potter” but do indicate what type of book it is similar to and then explain why it’s similar and most importantly, what makes it different and more interesting than what else is already out there. It helps them to understand how it will fit into today’s market.

The lunch:
I was really excited to meet Lynne for lunch because I have long thought about taking a publisher for lunch to learn more about the book world and once I did outreach to Penguin, Lynne was incredibly kind in her emails and seemed to be looking forward to the lunch as well.

Lynne spends a lot of her time editing manuscripts. She reads through them and provides a list of questions and comments and sends it back to the author – questions about character development, plot lines, areas of confusions, etc. The author revises the book, sends it back to her, she reviews, then it goes to a copy editor, then proofreader, back and forth a few times and then printing. To be safe, Lynne says it can take about a year from when a manuscript is received to publishing. However, Penguin’s sales reps are now meeting with book sellers about Spring 2012 releases, so orders come in for books while they’re still going through the editing phases. She showed me a brochure of Penguin Canada’s 2012 titles that include a novel that Lynne was going home after lunch to continue editing. Now that’s a lot of pressure. But even with the pressure, reading books all day, revising them and making them better does sound like a pretty fun job.

I have always loved reading and usually my reading falls into three categories – beach reads (chick lit, detective novels, etc.), more serious fiction (mostly chosen by the smart people in my now defunct book club) and non-fiction (like Thomas Friedman and my previous lunch guest Doug Saunders). To be honest, I haven’t read a lot of YA books as an adult but I think they would fall nicely into my beach reads category – great stories, great characters and the inability to put the book down. I think Lynne really won me over on our lunch today.

But whenever I do think of YA, I think of an overabundance of books about vampires. And I don’t really want to read a bunch of books about vampires. Well Lynne said that the vampire market is pretty saturated right now. She said a popular genre right now is dystopian, which Hunger Games falls into. These are stories that take place in a society in a repressive or controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian. I wonder if somehow vampires could exist in this state. Two birds, one stone. Boom. Best seller.

I remember reading YA books back in the day. We had Babysitter’s Club, Judy Blume, Sweet Valley High and one of my faves – Christopher Pike. His books scared the crap out of me. I used to throw it on the ground when it got too scary and would wait days to pick it back up. But when I was growing up, we never had a Harry Potter type series that EVERYONE read. Seeing kids in line to buy a book is pretty awesome. And that’s what Lynne thinks too. Not every book has to have a lesson – getting kids into stories and reading can create a lifelong passion for books and is just as important.

**Lynne was kind enough to give me some books. I was SO excited about it that she said she is going to send me a few more so I can do a giveaway! I will post it soon. Stay tuned.

My Nonna Ida Pollarolo

11 Sep

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Date of lunch:
Sunday, September 11, 2011

The company:
This was a Lunch with Mary first. My first lunch out of town (it was in my hometown of Ottawa) and my first lunch with a family member. I had lunch with my nonna (that is Italian for grandmother) Ida Pollarolo. She is awesome! She moved to Ottawa from Italy in the 1950s with my mom, my uncle and my nonno. Quick aside: Since there weren’t many other Italians in my elementary school, I never heard the words nonna and nonno except with my grandparents. I thought they were their actual names and I thought it was such a lovely coincidence that these two people with such similar names had found each other. I have always been very close with my nonna. I remember in high school on a P.A. Day, a lot of my friends were getting together for something fun, but I declined and biked over to nonna’s to hang with her. I miss her a lot since I have moved to Toronto but I try to call her often and send cards and letters when I can.

The food:
We ate in the dining room of the Lord Lansdowne Retirement Residence where my nonna lives. The food is pretty good at this place. I sort of wish I could have stayed for dinner as it was lobster tail and filet mignon. Although not surf and turf, our lunch was pretty delicious. We both started with the Lansdowne salad, which is a salad that includes grapes, melon and strips of ham. Nonna let me know that she does not like having sweet salads and salads should just be salads without fruit, except tomatoes “which they say is a fruit”. For the main course, I had the meat lasagna and she had chicken cordon bleu. I had apple pie for dessert and she had a fruit bowl. I also had coffee and we both drank water. Total bill is unknown to me as meals are included in her rent and I do know she has to pay a little to have a guest but she didn’t tell me how much.

The lunch lesson:
We talked a lot about her childhood in Valdagno. She lived there all her life before coming to Canada and it’s where my mom was born. I have been there a few times, it’s a very lovely town in the foothills of northern Italy. She grew up on a farm and started working where she could as early as she could. She had jobs such as collecting eggs from the chickens and helping her grandfather plant the potatoes. She was the youngest of eight – 7 girls and 1 boy. She spoke very highly of her mother and told me how great a mom she was and that the best thing she taught her was to respect everyone. Nonna said how her mom taught her that no matter someone’s background, education, etc., that we’re all equal. This is a great lesson that her mom passed on to her and one that was passed down to me as well.

The lunch:
I love my nonna a lot and treasure all the time I can spend with her since I live in Toronto and don’t get to Ottawa that much anymore. Lately she hasn’t been feeling that well so I decided to come to Ottawa for a weekend and spend as much time with her as I can. I was very happy that she seemed in great spirits, energetic and able to head down to the dinning room for our lunch.

We talked about the books that she’s been reading lately. She’s an avid reader across all sorts of genres. She just finished Bella Tuscany: The Sweet Life in Italy by the same author as Under the Tuscan Sun. She then told me that the book is nice but how do people live like that? She said Tuscany is like that if you’re rich, but not if you actually have to work for a living. It was a great observation. Italy isn’t all about tasting wine, eating and basking in the sunshine – there is work to be done!

I also just have a general observation about Italian homes. Any Italians that read this, please feel free to weigh in. When you go to a home in Italy (and I have seen this in Italian-Canadians’ homes as well), no matter the size of the home, there is a room somewhere, often in the basement, with a table that seats about 20 people. I always found it strange. So although there is work to be done, we do love to eat!

I was telling my nonna how I was going to a wedding the following weekend in Toronto (yay Maja and Mike!) and that I had just recently been in Vancouver for another wedding (Ali and Adrian!!). She looked at me and said that she doesn’t know about weddings anymore, it’s just a ceremony and what’s most important is honesty and being honest with one another. She said if you have honesty, that is all that matters. She is a wise lady.

After our lunch, as I left her room to head out and catch the train back to Toronto, we said our usual “I love you” and she followed with what she always says “be good”. So I said “nonna, you be good” to which she replied “there is not a lot of chances here to be bad”. Oh nonna, you’re the best! Tanti baci.

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Member of Parliament Andrew Cash

5 Aug

Lunch with Mary 055

Date of lunch:
Friday, August 5, 2011

The company:
Andrew Cash is my MP. He is the Member of Parliament for Davenport in Toronto. A few years ago, I was able to take out Andrew’s NDP colleague Olivia Chow for lunch, who was my MP when I lived in Trinity Spadina, and I was excited to take out my MP in my new riding since moving last summer. Andrew is a relatively new MP, having just won his seat in May. But he’s no stranger to the community, having campaigned for two years and as a long time community advocate. Andrew is so excited and so honoured to represent Davenport in Parliament and it was really great to speak with him.

The food:
We ate at Black Skirt by College and Dovercourt, it’s right near Andrew’s constituency office. We both drank water and Andrew also had an Americano. I had the grilled chicken and goat cheese sandwich. It was beyond delicious – a great marinade on the chicken, I could have ate two. Andrew had the cured meat sandwich special. We both had side garden salads. Total bill was $24 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Andrew explained his role as an MP and that he wears three hats. First, it’s meeting with his constituents who have concerns about things like immigration, employment insurance and other issues that fall to the federal government. He can then see how he can help. Second, is his role as a member of the NDP caucus, sitting in the House of Commons, participating in debate and voting. Third, it’s simply as an elected voice in his riding. As mentioned, Andrew spent over two years campaigning and spent much of that time listening to the concerns of the people he now serves. He understands that as an elected official, he needs to hear and understand the concerns and issues of everyone, whether or not the issue is federal. And he and his staff will see how they can help.

A lunch aside:
Before getting into the details of the lunch, I want to take a minute to mention that Andrew and I were supposed to meet for lunch last week but he had to re-schedule because he had to go to Ottawa for the interim leader vote. I am, as I am sure all Canadians are, keeping Jack Layton in my thoughts and wishing him a full and speedy recovery. Cancer is a jerk. Cancer recently took my boyfriend’s father and with that so fresh in our minds, seeing Jack’s press conference was very difficult. It seems right when he had accomplished something on which he’d worked for so long, cancer came along and ruined everything. Let’s hope we can get rid of this disease in our lifetime. Here are some links if you’re so inclined: Canadian Cancer Society and Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation.

The lunch:
As soon as we started our lunch, Andrew told me that today was a really exciting day for him as it’s his first full day of scheduled meetings with his constituents. He has already met with several people in the morning, had lunch with me (a constituent) and then a full afternoon. I had actually never considered setting up a meeting with my MP (or any other of my elected representatives) to discuss a specific issue or concern, so it was so nice to see that not only is Andrew doing this but he is SO excited about it.

We talked at length about the new NDP caucus. The media did criticize how young and inexperienced many of the members were. But one perspective is that more than any other party, the NDP is a microcosm of Canada with different ages, backgrounds and lots of women, which is great to see. Andrew is in a unique position of being a rookie but also having a lot of experience and he is thrilled about the people in the caucus, especially the young MPs. He told me to mark his words, a future prime minister of Canada is in his caucus and it’s one of the young MPs that people were so quick to criticize.

Andrew talked about some of the priorities and goals of the NDP and he spoke of a national public transit plan. Watching what is going on in Toronto right now is terribly depressing. As someone who takes public transit every single day to work, it irritates me to no end that the elected officials making the transit decisions don’t even use transit. And they’ve just canceled Transit City for a tiny subway route that serves less than 10% of the population that Transit City did. How is this happening? Well Andrew believes that with a federal mandate, there will be more logical and more cohesive transit, and hopefully more federal dollars.

Now many of you may not know that Andrew Cash is a very accomplished musician. He was actually in a punk band in Toronto in the 1980’s called L’Étranger with fellow NDP MP, Charlie Angus. He happens to be the MP for Timmins-James Bay, which includes good old Kirkland Lake, the hometown of my boyfriend. We never thought there was another connection between our Davenport home and Kirkland Lake and we’re happy to have found one. Maybe they can play a show at the Bellevue Tavern on Prospect Ave. We’ll be there for sure!

Much like my lunch with Olivia Chow, I left this lunch feeling very encouraged and optimistic about our elected representatives. They are enthusiastic, dedicated and excited to represent their constituents in Parliament and it’s great to see.

Physiotherapist, Professor and Global Rescue Worker Mike Landry

9 Jul

Lunch with Mary 054 Date of lunch:
Friday, July 8, 2011

The company:
Mike Landry is a physiotherapist, professor at University of Toronto (soon to be chair at Duke University) and a 15 year veteran of global rescue missions. I was listening to my fave, CBC Dispatches, and heard a story by Mike Landry about his original mission to Haiti shortly after the devastating earthquake in January 2010. He spoke about the work he did to help those with spinal cord injuries as a result of the earthquake and subsequent recovery effort. He then went back several months later to check on the progress of his patients and what he discovered led him to ask some very difficult questions about the responsibility of aid. When does it start? When does it end? I found the story very thought provoking and wanted to hear from Mike himself. In one of my fastest arranged lunches in history – I listened to the podcast on Sunday, Googled Mike Landry and emailed him on Monday and we had lunch on Friday. It was a fascinating conversation.

The food:
Mike and I ate at Café La Gaffe on Baldwin Street. I have never been on Baldwin Street on a beautiful afternoon and the patios were bustling. It’s one of those great hidden spots in Toronto. I had the Mediterranean vegetable pizza with salad and Mike had the risotto special with salad. We both drank water. The portions were huge, which I always appreciate. I did find the pizza a bit difficult to cut through but it was still great, tons of feta cheese! Total bill was $34 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Mike talked to me about the type of person that is able to go on these global aid missions and was very clear that it is not for everyone. The images he sees are not something that he can forget and he said that every aid worker must have some amount of post-traumatic stress disorder. He says he can’t even fully discuss what he sees and does with all people because it is too difficult for them to hear. What really got to me was that Mike and his colleagues choose to put themselves in these positions. But what about those that live there and have no choice but to see the devastation day in and day out? It’s hard to imagine what that must be like and that thought has really stuck with me since our lunch.

The lunch:
Ever since I was young, I had an understanding that there were people in other parts of the world that had far less than I did and, like many other in my shoes, had this drive to do something to help. But the problem is, what do you do and how can you help? Mike Landry first felt this feeling when he watched Live Aid as a child and the drive did not go away. For over 15 years, he has been going to areas all over the world and helping out.

I asked him if he was ever scared and he told me he never was until recently, when he had children. When he first saw the images coming back from Haiti after the earthquake, he decided he couldn’t go this time. His daughter was very young and he didn’t want to put himself at risk. Mike told me he was able to hold himself from going for a week and then he just had to go. Once he knew he was going, he was in Haiti within a couple of days.

In Haiti, Mike helped those that were suffering from spinal cord injuries. He said many of these people had pulled themselves, with very serious injuries, out of the rubble on their own. Others had fallen while working to help rescue others and clear rubble. Not that many years ago, these people never would have survived – these injuries would have meant certain death. But Mike and the rest of the team in Haiti were able to help them. Many of those they saved are now able to have some level of mobility.

A few months after the earthquake, Mike returned to Haiti to check back in on his patients and help them return home. To this day, rubble still covers the streets of Haiti and it is shocking to see. For someone with mobility issues, it is very difficult to get around.

He brought one woman, who is paralyzed, to her home that was so difficult to access that they could not even bring her to her home on her wheelchair and instead had to carry her to her home on a stretcher. Once home, Mike wondered whether she’d ever be able to leave. And these are the questions that now haunt Mike and many other aid workers. They saved these lives but now what? How can the massive global aid dollars respond appropriately to help these survivors and communities? I, of course, do not have the answers but I think it’s something that needs to be addressed. The funding is there but it’s far more complicated than simply spending money.

Mike is about to embark on a new adventure at Duke University and will teach physiotherapy students who will continue the work that Mike does now. With advances in medicine, there is the opportunity to save so many more lives than before. It is my hope that long term aid will be part of the solution and will address quality of life. With someone as committed as Mike championing this cause, I believe we’re on the right track.

*NOTE: Mike is working on a documentary about his work and the people he has helped in Haiti and I will link to it once the site is live. Stay tuned for an update.

Lunch with Mary on Huffington Post

9 Jul

Huff Post Screen Grab

My lunch posts are now featured on Huffington Post Canada! So exciting. You can check it out here: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/mary-warner

Ryerson University English professor Dennis Denisoff

14 Jun

Lunch with Mary 053

Date of lunch:
Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The company:
Dennis Denisoff is the Chair of the Department of English at Ryerson University. He also teaches English and is a professor in the Communication and Culture Graduate program. Dennis was my 3rd year English professor when I was at Ryerson and I really enjoyed his class. I went to every single one! He always had a great way of discussing literature that was accessible and interesting for someone like me, who loves reading and writing but is not the greatest at literature courses. I had a bit of an epiphany a few weeks ago when I was thinking about Ryerson, remembered this class and I thought “hey, I should just ask him out for lunch”… and here we are.

The food:
Dennis and I ate at Bangkok Garden, a Thai restaurant right near Ryerson. I have been there before but only for dinner and I remembered that it was delicious – a bit higher end than the Thai I usually have. We had the buffet and I have to say that it was likely the best lunch buffet I have ever had. Totally fresh, lots of options and regularly refilled. Some of the deliciousness that I sampled included vegetarian summer roll, vegetable green curry, mango salad, chicken vegetable stir fry and more! Yum. We both drank water. Dennis told me that he insisted on picking up the tab when he agreed to lunch with me. But as my readers know, I insist on picking up the tab. So we split it. Total bill was $34 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
After my lunch with Doug Saunders, I decided to take a bit of a hiatus from my blog. For those who don’t live in my head, it might not make sense but I thought I needed to sit back and make sure that I remembered why I started my blog in the first place. Like many bloggers know but might not admit, you sometimes get caught up in the page views. But I needed to take some time and remember that I started this blog to learn. So my first blog back, I was so glad to lunch with someone who is committed to learning. I talked to Dennis about his class and how, although I loved the books, I didn’t always see the meaning or symbolism and sometimes just enjoyed the stories. He let me know that there are techniques for reading that way and finding those meanings within the stories, and that it was something that I could learn. It made me feel better to know that I am not a total moron and that one day I can sound as smart as the other students in my university English classes.

The lunch:
Overall it was a great lunch! I always enjoyed Dennis’s class so it’s no surprise that I would enjoy our lunch conversation. Dennis let me know before our lunch that he’d love to discuss some of his new research areas. His research area that I found the most interesting is digital humanities.

A good friend of mine is doing his PhD in English and his apartment is filled with walls of books and it is amazing. The image of English research for me will always include a scene like this apartment. Well Ryerson is doing a lot of work surrounding digital humanities and using research tools much like a science department would to make connections within literature, among other things.

For instance, most people who have studied English literature know that Mary Shelley is connected to Percy Shelley. But this research can show, hypothetically, that author A encountered Mary Shelley and two years later Mary Shelley spent some time with author B. So although A and B never met, they did share a connection with Mary Shelley and A’s writing influences B’s. This is just one example of what can be found but it is so much more. Finding these connections throughout history, as well as political and historical events, and tying them to literature, art and more, is incredible. The resources that Dennis and his team are building are bringing a greater understanding of history. Pretty incredible.

Digital humanities has become such a focus for Ryerson that they have just hired a tenure-stream professor specializing in this area. I can only imagine what will be discovered in the coming years as more works go online and more people work to find the connections.

The class I took with Dennis was Popular Literature and Culture. As part of an assignment, we had to watch Terminator 2. I had never seen the movie. After I watched it and thought it was awesome, I just wanted to talk about it all the time. So I was that weirdo at parties talking about a movie that came out (and was hugely popular) ten years earlier as if it had just opened in theatres. I do have a point with this anecdote, I promise. There is something timeless about books and stories and there is a common, as well as unique, experience to be had. It is people like Dennis who ensure that stories from the past will never be lost and there is something incredibly valuable about the work he does.